WASHINGTON D.C. — A bill in Congress is aimed at creating federal penalties for people who intentionally and violently attack law enforcement officers, as communities around the country face a rise in these targeted attacks.
According to the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), 135 law enforcement officers have been shot on the job around the country so far this year, which is a 52 percent increase from the same time three years ago.
The bill dubbed the Protect and Serve Act would create penalties of up to ten years in prison for someone who attacks and injures an officer, and it creates a penalty of life in prison for someone who kills or kidnaps an officer.
“We can send a message to that criminal element if you’re going to target these police officers, we’re going to, this Congress, we’re going to target you,” said Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL), the bill’s sponsor.
Rutherford is a former police officer and a former Sheriff with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO).
“Let’s send a strong message that Congress and the federal government have the backs of our state and local law enforcement officers who are out there putting their lives on the line every single day,” said Rutherford.
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Rutherford re-introduced the bipartisan measure with Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).
“Every day it seems like police officers are being attacked wherever they go,” said Gottheimer. “We need to make sure these criminals are brought to justice.”
The measure has support from the FOP.
“It’s never been more dangerous to be a police officer than it is today,” said FOP National President Patrick Yoes. “They’re being attacked simply because of their uniform.”
The bill has passed with overwhelming support from both parties in the House previously, but it never made it through the Senate.
The bill’s sponsors are hopeful to see it be signed into law this time around.
But the proposal is facing opposition from the criminal justice reform advocacy group The Sentencing Project.
“It federalizes conduct that is already criminalized by state statutes,” said Liz Komar, Sentencing Reform Counsel for The Sentencing Project. “It has the potential for some troubling repercussions.”
Komar cautioned that it could be used “as a sword to defend against claims of police brutality,” and discourage victims of police brutality from seeking justice.
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She also argued the language is too broad and could be used to extend to circumstances such as resisting arrest.